Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 7

We've moved on to the 70s. Further from classic "noir" territory, but still great heist films.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (1974): I can't believe I'd never seen this before. This film is amazing. I don't think there's ever been a better match of humor and tension in the history of cinema. It's the kind of movie that could only work in New York. Walter Matthau plays transit policeman Zachary Garber in a frankly ridiculous but now iconic plaid shirt and yellow tie. With an attitude I can only describe as "New Yorkish" he makes his way through his job, Shows a visiting Japanese contingent around, and generally keeps things running smoothly. That is, until a gang led by "Mr Blue" (Robert Shaw) hijacks a train (the titular Pelham 123) and holds the passengers for ransom. I love how Garber handles the situation over the radio, relaying information to and from multiple parties. This is a man who knows how to handle a gun, but also knows that words are his best tools. And as tense as the situation is, he knows blowing up will destroy that best tool. So while everyone else is shitting their pants, he's the calm in the eye of the storm. I see a bit of Buster Keaton's great stone face in that (if the great stone face had kindly jowls, and didn't rely on physical comedy.) The mayor (Lee Wallace, adding more comedy) agrees to pay, but how will the robbers get away. It's not like there are a lot of ways to escape via subway train? Well, they've got that figured out, too. But Garber and the NYPD are pretty smart as well. And the ending scene, once again comedy and tension come together perfectly.

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974): And then for unconventional buddy movie pairings, how about Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood? The directing debut of  Michael Cimino (DEER HUNTER, HEAVEN'S GATE) is a weird, weird heist film. Bridges is Lightfoot, a long-haired goofy drifter, who steals a car from a dealership and almost runs over Clint Eastwood's character, an old criminal who was posing as a preacher before one of his gang tracked him down and tried to kill him. Later in the movie he'll get the nickname Thunderbolt when he tells Lightfoot of his old gang and how they robbed the Montana armory with a 20mm cannon with armor-piercing shells. It was in the papers, and they had dubbed the robber "Thunderbolt." Anyway, his old gang thinks he crossed them and took all the money. Fact is, it was hidden in a small one-room schoolhouse. And the site of that is now a new, modern schoolhouse and he has no idea where the money is. So when the old gang gets back together (especially George Kennedy as Red Leary) they're kind of upset. It's Lightfoot who has the crazy idea to just rob the armory again, using the exact same plan--hell, it worked before? A weird, weird heist film, with some strange characters and a lot of homoerotic subtext. Oh yeah, as part of the heist they need Lightfoot to get in drag and seduce a guard. Very funny, and a very, very odd ending.

Total Running Time: 219 minutes
My Total Minutes: 414,881

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